Madeline Marsh
Humanities III
Ms. Jones

"Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard"

"Oh my god, Mom!" I can't believe she's actually doing it. It hadn't been embarrassing enough when Tommy, my little brother, ran to answer the door with underwear on his head, but my mom is actually showing the newest candidate for a boyfriend my baby pictures. I fling my hands over my face to hide the creeping blush and sink down into the couch as far as I can. Ryan, the poor boy being subjected to this torture, laughs nervously, unsure of whose side to take.

"Oh—look how cute you are in this one Rachel!" My mother squeals, in that voice only mothers can seem to emit.

"Mom, we have to go," I plead.

"Oh calm down," she orders, "the movie doesn't start for another 45 minutes."

Groaning, I flop against the back of the couch. The sound of flipping pages and motherly squeals bombards my ears, broken occasionally by a polite chuckle from Ryan at the appropriate times. Massaging my temples, I watch the blinking 12:00 flash across the screen on the DVD player, neglected the last time the power had gone off or Tommy had tripped over the wire in a flurry of arms and legs.

"Rachel, honey! Look at this one!" Mom says excitedly.

Shooting Ryan an apologetic glance, I peer over her shoulder at the faded photograph she's pointing at. It's of a little girl, wearing a bright pink dress with ribbons in her hair. She's leaning over towards a little boy with mud-stained shorts and one untied shoe, planting a kiss on his cheek—whose face protests the action. I smile in spite of my attitude as I think back to the golden years of childhood and my forbidden friendship with that boy that lived down the street.

A tear drop launched itself from the bottom of my cheek and began its long and slow freefall. It splashed against the floor of the bus right before my pink, light up sneaker stomped over it. I sat down angrily in the fourth seat—the farthest seat back that first graders were allowed to go—and put my

backpack next to me, barring the possibility of a neighbour. The seat across the aisle was similarly occupied, a little boy and his Superman bag.

The bus pulled up in front of my house, my mom stood waiting at the end of the driveway. When it came to a full stop, I grabbed my pack and marched off the school bus. I tramped past my mother, up to the front door. When she asked me how my day had been, I burst into tears and launched into a description of how Erik wouldn't play with me today at recess because they were playing war, and the other boys said that girls weren't allowed to. I told her how Erik had stayed with them instead of playing with me in the sandbox.

My mom led me to the kitchen, grabbed some cookies from the plate sitting on the counter and sat me down on one of the wooden stools. While I sat there chewing, she told me how some boys thought it wasn't cool for girls and boys to play together at recess.

"I don't get it, Mommy. Why can't boys and girls play together?" I inquired.

"Well they can, sweetie. They just don't a lot of the time," she answered.

"I still don't get why he wouldn't make sandcastles with me," I mumbled, sliding off the stool and heading towards the TV.

The next day, when I got on the bus to go to school, Erik was sitting in our usual seat, his Superman bag on his lap with plenty of room for a partner. I sat down next to him and immediately demanded if he had seen the new episode of Bugs Bunny last night. Neither of us mentioned anything that had happened yesterday—we didn't need to. We each knew that we had been forgiven without having to say sorry, we just knew.

The bell rang in the hallways and a stampede of little girls and boys thundered out the doors onto the playground. I asked Erik if he wanted to come help me bury my feet in the sandbox. He looked between me and a group of boys standing together in the middle of the field.

"Um, I think I'm going to go play war again today," he said uncomfortably.

"Oh, okay," I replied dejectedly. He stood there self-consciously for a moment before taking off towards the other boys. I walked slowly over to the sandbox by myself. After digging a while by myself, I saw a group of girls a little ways away. I wandered over to them and asked what they were doing.

"We made a palace for Princess Haley. See? She rules over the whole Rainbow Kingdom. Do you want to play with us?" One of them said.

"Sure," I replied, sitting down in the sand next to them.

As I sat there, carving a horse stable, I realized that I was enjoying myself. I looked over at the boys running around the field, flailing around dramatically, waving around stick-guns at each other. It didn't look like much fun to me—I didn't really get why Erik would rather play with them. Shrugging, I turned my attention back to the Happy Horse Stable.

On the bus ride home, Erik asked me what I had done during recess. I told him about the Rainbow Kingdom and Princess Haley.
"Doesn't sound like much fun to me," he responded.

"Well, what did you do?" I asked him.

"We played war. This time, it was the aliens from Mars against the humans. I was an alien. I had a goo-blaster. We had to go inside before we could finish, though."

"Cool, I guess." I said.

The next day at recess, I returned to the group of girls who I had been with the day before. One of the other girls had brought with her a toy horse for my stable. I spent most of the time galloping the plastic animal around the kingdom, up and down the sandy roads.

Erik came running up to me about halfway through recess. The other girls in the group looked at him as if he were actually an alien, not simply playing the part of one in a school-yard game.

"Rachel, I forgot to ask you earlier. My mom said you can come over after school today. She said she can take us to the pool if we wanted. Do you want to?" He asked.

"Sure! I'll just have to ask my mom when I get home." I accepted enthusiastically—when Erik's mom brought us to the pool she always bought us ice cream cones.

"Cool, I'll see you on the bus!" He called over his shoulder as he rejoined his alien comrades.

I turned back to the sand-kingdom and my toy horse. The other girls were staring at me in disbelief.
"What?" I asked them.

"You're friends with a boy?" The one who had originally invited me to play with them asked.

"Yeah, what's wrong with that?" I asked defensively.

"You can't be friends with boys!" The one who had lent me the horse burst in.

"Why not?" I demanded of them.

"Because they have cooties," one of the others answered matter-of-factly.

"What are cooties?" I asked warily.

"You don't know what cooties are?" They inquired in high voices with shocked faces.

"No..." I mumbled, feeling stupid.

"Well, you just can't be friends with boys. Okay? Otherwise, we couldn't play with you. We might get cooties from you," She ordered.

"Oh, okay," I agreed fast, not wanting to lose my newfound friends.

That afternoon, while I sat in a dirty white plastic lawn chair beside the public pool eating a chocolate-vanilla twist ice cream cone, I told Erik about what the girls had said. He told me that the other boys had said something like that to him, too.

We sat there wondering what we should do, melted ice cream running down our hands. Neither of us wanted to give up playing with each other—our days spent playing together were so much fun that nothing in the world seemed worth giving them up for.

"What if we just didn't play together at school?" Erik suggested.

I thought about it: I would play with my new found group of cootie-free girl friends, Erik would play war with the other boys, and then after school we could play together all we wanted. We both decided that it was a good idea.

The next morning when I stepped on the bus, I made my way in the usual pattern towards the seat Erik and I always sat in. At the last second, I remembered our conversation we had had yesterday at the poolside. I swerved over to an empty seat across from him and settled in. I glanced over to him out of the corner of my eye. We both smiled a bit. It was like a new game, a secret game that no one else could play.

At the beginning of recess, while the sea of kids flowed around us, we strolled casually next to each other. We pretended that we didn't know each other in the slightest. I wandered over to the sandbox to my group of friends while Erik made his way over to the field.

Safely among the other girls, I couldn't help but feel important—like I was guarding a secret. I liked the new game we were playing, even though we were pretending we weren't playing anything together at all.

After school, for the first few days, we would run to each other's houses and share everything we had done all day while we were acting as if we didn't know the other.

Eventually, our afternoon visits dwindled down to once in awhile. We were being swept up by the other people in our groups, almost starting to believe in cooties ourselves. We had almost stopped hanging out altogether by the time we had to graduate to the second grade—a place where cooties were enforced even more, where the older students gave out cootie shots for 5 cents once a week.

When Erik didn't come over once in the first three weeks, and I didn't go to his house, my mom asked me if we had gotten in a fight. I told her that no we hadn't, he was just busy.

The ultimate sign of our separation came when Erik's eighth birthday came around and I didn't receive an invitation in our mailbox. I was surprised when I walked by his house and saw the boys at his party running around with water guns and I didn't even feel upset about it.

"That's a really cute picture, Mom," I told her, rolling my eyes towards Ryan.

The title is a song by Cat Stevens. Please don't DC me!